Q & A: CNN contributor Steve Perry

Steve Perry, best known as CNN’s education contributor, will be speaking at the Student Dining and Residential Program Building in the Ikenberry Commons on Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. As a preface to the event, The Daily Illini was able to get in touch with Perry and talk about his views on education today.

The Daily Illini: What inspired you to become someone so well-versed in education? You’re someone who grew up in the (public housing) projects, where it isn’t easy to succeed.

Steve Perry: Well, education is the way I got out and was the way that I was able to stay out. It’s the way that any of us would be able to get out of a bad situation, financially or otherwise. The more education one has, the more self-confidence they can have and the better life they’re going to have. I see it as a necessity. It was the thing I did better than some of the other things I did.

*DI: You are the principal and founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet High School in Hartford, Conn. How have you managed to get every student into a four-year college in such a low-performing area?*

Perry: We are a school designed to get kids into colleges, so we just do what we’re designed to do. All we’ve done is just take the models from upper-bound programs and elite private schools and put them together to create a compelling academic experience, which makes it possible for every graduate to go on to a four-year college. I think the only thing that’s surprising about the fact that we send as high a percentage of children as we do to four-year colleges is that they’re students of color. Most people wouldn’t be surprised by that if it were a white school in a high-wealth neighborhood. It’s only surprising because it happens in poverty, and I know that children from all views and economic backgrounds can be successful when given access to a high-quality education.

*DI: What’s your opinion on the state of Chicago Public Schools? Throughout the last few years, they have had numerous budget cuts that have adversely affected a lot of students and programs. What do you think can be done to stop this?*

Perry: There are lots of solutions; this is solvable. Chicago’s issues are like many big cities’ issues where you’re too big to start with, and then labor like the teachers unions and the custodial unions and the principals unions and other stuff have out-priced education in that market, meaning that because they get guaranteed raises every year, or have for so many years, they’ve actually made it more expensive to give you that same exact service. If they’re not going to give you more service, then it shouldn’t cost you more money. So, from there, the schools need to be broken up into smaller units. There are too many people in Chicago Public Schools for that school system to ever be successful. It needs to be broken up into at least 20 or 30 different schools systems.

*DI: Are schools failing because of funding? Or can parents take blame as well?*

Perry: They don’t need more money. They just need better teachers and principals. As for parents, if your parents don’t speak Spanish and you’re taking a Spanish class, what help can they be to you? If the last time your parent took algebra was when the frat boys were together, what help can they be to you?

*DI: Do you agree with the costs of higher education in the U.S., considering there are a lot of kids who are qualified but just can’t afford it?*

Perry: Here’s the Catch-22 with college in the U.S.: One of the issues is that, as a student, you want a really cool athletic facility or you want big-time sports there, and you want a big library and pretty spaces. That stuff costs money, so somebody has to pay for it.

*DI: Don’t you think it’s ridiculous that some colleges cost upwards of $50,000 per year?*

Perry: I think that you have to go to the school that, A, you can get into and, B, be able to afford. A lot of these high-priced educations are overpriced. You’re not really getting anything different from them or better from them. It’s not like the fact that you’re going to a $50,000 per year school means that you’re going to get a better job than someone who’s at a lower-cost school.